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Gastric cancer is cancer that occurs in the stomach, part of the digestive system. Many types of gastric cancer are believed to be caused at times by a bacterial infection of H. pylori. Treatment with antibiotics to eliminate this infection may prevent gastric cancer. This type of cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, but it is rare in children.
Eighty-five percent of gastric cancer occurs in the lining of the stomach. Stomach cancer spreads easily (metastasizes) to other areas of the digestive system as well as other organs. Gastro-esophageal reflux disease can increase the occurrence of stomach cancer, as the lining in the esophagus is damaged.
Gastric cancer produces symptoms that may be difficult to diagnose, particularly in children. Stomachache with a poor appetite can be misdiagnosed or even ignored when not severe. Once weight loss begins, individuals may become anemic. Other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and a change in bowel movements may again be attributed to an unrelated illness, such as the flu. Early detection is vital in curing this disease. Consult a medical professional if a child exhibits any of the above symptoms for more than a few days.
Surgery (removal of part of the stomach or, in rare cases, the whole stomach) is the most effective method of treatment for gastric cancer. Once tumors have spread outside of the stomach, treatment becomes more difficult. Removing all of the affected areas may not be possible, so radiation and chemotherapy can also be used to treat the remaining cancer. All these treatments have side effects that can be serious, but can often be managed.
Abdominal surgery carries a risk of infections throughout the healing process. Removal of all or part of the stomach will also create a need to change dietary habits. If only part of the stomach is removed patients will eventually be able to eat normally, though smaller portions will help reduce any indigestion. Smaller portions eaten frequently will help manage symptoms such as upset stomach from bile backing up into the esophagus.
Total removal of the stomach will require patients to substantially change their diet. Additional nutritional guidance will be received from the doctor or a nutritionist, as each individual patient will have different needs and a child will have nutritional needs specific to maintaining normal growth levels. Patients without a stomach will not be able to absorb B12 and will need regular shots to maintain healthy blood and nerves.
Side effects of radiation for gastric cancer include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can be managed with medication and diet. Skin reactions and tiredness are also common. Chemotherapy creates similar side effects as it kills the fastest growing cells in the body. These include stomach lining, hair and blood cells. Symptoms disappear when treatment is completed.
Research is being conducted into diagnosis and treatment of Gastric Cancer by such organizations as the American Cancer Society and St. Jude's Hospital. These organizations are developing new forms of surgery to reduce recovery time and more targeted drugs. The occurrence of gastric cancer in children is rare, so information on the long-term effects of these new treatments is not yet available.